Gulf Oil Spill Could Spur Energy Bill

Polls show new interest from voters in tackling carbon pollution.

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It's hard to remember, but before Congress got all bogged down with healthcare reform last summer, the House had passed a major piece of energy and climate legislation that would have capped greenhouse gas emissions and put billions into renewable energy and new technologies. The Senate tried to get something going last fall, but the effort stalled. Then the Copenhagen climate summit came and went and, by the start of the year, climate legislation seemed no further along in the Senate than it did when President Obama took office.

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The story didn't change much this spring . Three senators—one Democrat (John Kerry), one independent (Joe Lieberman), and one Republican (Lindsey Graham)— put together an energy and climate plan after months of closed-door meetings, but Graham pulled his support once Senate Democrats began talking about taking up immigration. The hope had been to come up with something that might quiet some of the rhetoric from both sides and have a shot at passing the Senate. But in an election year, that's a hard task. As with healthcare, opponents are branding any attempts to rein in carbon pollution as a tax, whereas proponents are promising that curbing emissions will galvanize the economy and create new jobs.

It wasn't until the massive Gulf oil spill, at the end of April, that President Obama began pushing publicly once again for an energy and climate bill. The public, it seems, is with him: Several recent polls have shown that, in the aftermath of the spill, a strong majority of Americans support action to tackle carbon pollution and to spur more renewable energy. But so far, Congress hasn't been able, or simply hasn't found the will to try, to translate voter sentiment into legislation.

All the same, it's unlikely that energy issues will rank as high in voters' minds this year as they did in 2008, when gas prices were soaring above $4 a gallon. Prices have been creeping up this spring, but they're still well below the records that were set two years ago. And while most polls show that Americans continue to support developing renewable energy and think capping pollution is a good idea, they also show that fewer Americans now believe global warming is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed.